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How press trips build a business

Charles McDiarmid of the Wickaninnish Inn. Photo credit: Ivan Hunter

Charles McDiarmid is the managing director of the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, a spot lauded by locals and celebrities alike, and profiled in publications and media around the world. Most recently, the Wickaninnish was ranked Number One on the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2015 list of Top Resorts in Canada for the second year in a row—an outstanding achievement (the Four Seasons Resort & Residences in Whistler and the Fairmont Chateau Whistler also ranked number 2 and 3 respectively). We asked Charles six questions about his experience participating in media trips and the value they add to his business. 
 
When was the first time your business, the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, participated in a press trip?
 
It was our “topping off” ceremony on April 26th, 1996, and our first-ever media event. I remember it clearly as we had promised our first media and public relations manager that the windows of The Pointe Restaurant would be installed, but, as fate would have it, they were not. Luckily, the weather was splendid. All of our guests—including food and travel writers—had a splendid time enjoying appetizers by chef Rod Butters in the main floor of The Pointe Restaurant looking out on the sun-dappled waters of the open Pacific Ocean.
 
How has working with travel media helped you build your business? How has it played a role in the marketing the appeal of a West Coast storm?
 
Working with the travel, food and wine, and spa media has been the cornerstone of our marketing program from day one and, almost 19 years later, is still the most important component of our program. The credibility, reach and value this investment generates is far and away the best bang for the buck in our full range of marketing initiatives. Personally, I believe the key benefit is the credibility that a professional writer, often with legions of loyal fans, provides to the average travel consumer.
 
What tips would you give colleagues who are considering being involved in a press trip?
 
First of all, know you are paying now with an investment in time, planning and energy for a result that will not always provide an instant return. For example, sometimes articles take a year or more to gestate, especially for high-end magazines, but that return will come. Instead of investing cash, say, in an advertising program where you dictate the location, time, positioning, image, copy and size of your presentation, you have to trust in the quality of the experience you provide and put your energy toward working with each journalist. Not being in total control of the exact message you want each journalist to write about is part of the bargain and part of the fun.
 
Feel free to suggest other story ideas to journalists, as many write for multiple outlets and are happy to come away with more than one article. Be sure you always have current, high- resolution images online and send a follow-up note with a link to these images.
 
I always endeavour to host each journalist personally for a meal and arrange introductions with key members of our team, for example our sommelier, chef, or spa manager.  When the article does appear, I send each journalist a handwritten thank-you note for including us in their story.
 
Was there anything unexpected about these experiences?
 
Well, over the years we have hosted many members of the media, and things do not always go according to plan. Missed flights and ferries and other delays are always potential surprises, along with brilliant sunshine in the face of a potential winter storm watching story, or stormy weather when a writer is seeking an adventure story about activities available in Clayoquot Sound. Touch wood, we have had few true disasters and this is mostly due to the high level of advance planning courtesy of the media and public relations managers we have been fortunate to work with, as well as our team here in Tofino, and in the Clayoquot Sound area.
 
Both the media and the travel industry are changing at a rapid pace, with online reviews and social media taking prominence. Do you have advice on hosting social media influencers for those just learning about this field?
 
In evaluating social media opportunities, always consider the audience of the writer. Is it a good fit for your offering? Next up, evaluate the engagement of their followers and ask what impacts they have had with previous properties they have featured. If possible, check with hotels directly to see how it went and what impact their stay had on the property’s Google Analytics. 
 
Do you have final thoughts, or tips that we haven’t covered on how to maximize this experience to boost your tourism business?
 
Utilize your destination and all the wonderful characters and providers who inhabit your world to full advantage, to showcase your offerings and to add breadth and depth to stories. Follow up with each writer to check if they need images and be in touch for potential return visits—especially if you have already established other potential storylines to pursue in the future.